Morning Music: A Boy Named Sue

Boy Named Sue and His Other Country SongsShel Silverstein’s most famous song is probably “A Boy Named Sue.” It was a huge hit for Johnny Cash and it works well for him. But he makes the song too serious. You get the impression that it was the right thing to do to name the boy Sue. As a result, the denouement where the singer says that he will name his own son anything but Sue doesn’t work all that well.

Silverstein’s version of “A Boy Named Sue” off Boy Named Sue and His Other Country Songs fully embraces its silliness. And at the end, he goes crazy and shows that he wouldn’t just name his son something different, but that he still hates his father because it was terrible to have named him Sue. There might have been an upside to the name but it didn’t make up for the downside.

About a decade later, Silverstein wrote a followup, The Father of a Boy Named Sue off his album, Songs and Stories. Whereas “A Boy Named Sue” is a fun song, the followup is deeply disturbing. It claims that Sue lied in his song and that actually he’s a transvestite. After the fight, they reconcile and the father moves in with the son who takes care of him better than any daughter ever could. And the song ends with more than the implication of incest. Shockingly, when Johnny Cash covered the song, he kept the lyrics in, although he sings them so forthright that it doesn’t come off as creepy as it does when Shel Silverstein delivers when in a barely audible squeal.

2 thoughts on “Morning Music: A Boy Named Sue

  1. The sequel is repulsive. What really makes it awful is that Silverstein said he wrote it because he’d grown older and become a father, so he wanted to retell the story from the father’s point of view. And if that’s how he thinks a father should act… well, I’m not saying Shel molested his children, but I don’t see how a parent could write that song and think it’s “funny.”

    • Well, I did warn you: it is creepy. I don’t know if it says much about him; it is just the blackest of black humor. It was written not long after the mother of his daughter died — and a few years before his daughter died at the age of 11 a cerebral aneurysm. I’ve always thought he seemed like a sad guy. But you will note that I didn’t highlight that song. It is beyond the pale. I find it more surprising that Johnny Cash did the song.

      BTW: those letters about tiger bread on your Tumblr are charming. That deserves an article here!

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